May 14, 2018

Chicago Tribune

Rauner's death penalty ploy

The death penalty was suspended in Illinois in 2000 by Republican Gov. George Ryan and abolished in 2011 by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. Why? Intractable flaws in the system sent at least 20 innocent men to death row. The state is better off without the death penalty, we wrote in 2011, because "Illinois will no longer risk executing an innocent person."

That was pretty much the last we heard of the issue until Gov. Bruce Rauner raised the subject Monday. Facing a tough re-election bid, Rauner challenged established wisdom by declaring he supports reinstating the death penalty in certain instances. His announcement came out of the blue, but the political calculation is unsurprising. It's also cynical: Election Day approaches (though we don't think this gambit goes anywhere).

On Monday, Rauner ripped up a bill passed this year by the Democratic-controlled House and Senate that would have extended the "cooling-off" period from 24 hours to 72 hours for the purchase of an assault weapon. Using his amendatory veto power, he effectively rewrote the legislation to create a tough-on-crime cornucopia. In his version, the bill would bring back the death penalty for murdering a police officer, or two or more people. It also would ban bump stocks, give courts the power to remove guns from people considered dangerous and extend the 72-hour waiting period to all gun purchases.

Politicians up for election hunt everywhere for voter support, so very few proposals cause us to do spit takes. But Rauner's bring-back-the-death-penalty cry comes close. The death penalty issue in Illinois was examined and debated for years in light of notorious incidents of wrongly convicted defendants sent to death row. In Illinois, the legitimate sentiment of many that certain heinous criminals should be put to death was weighed against the risk of errors, and the decision was made to end capital punishment.

Now comes Rauner, facing two political challenges: his governor's race against Democrat J.B. Pritzker and his need to re-establish bona fides with disgruntled conservative Republicans. Maybe he hopes to attract some Democratic voters with elements of his hydra-headed rewrite, such as the waiting period for all firearms purchases. Meanwhile, the death penalty idea looks like a paean to conservatives. Rauner narrowly defeated a primary challenge from the right by Jeanne Ives, and he may never win those Republicans back on the issue of opposition to abortion, given his support for expanded abortion funding. So he'll get tough on crime. That message will look good on a downstate billboard.

Rauner addresses the specter of executing an innocent person by proposing a higher standard of determining guilt in capital cases. A court would need to find the defendant guilty "beyond all doubt," versus the standard determination of "beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. Rauner's proposal is a standard that's been kicked around in the past and may have validity if the issue of juror certainty had been the narrow focus of the death penalty debate. But that's not what ended the death penalty in Illinois. The crucial question was this: Could Illinois assure its citizens that the state would only execute the guilty?

The answer was no, and nothing has changed to make Rauner's Monday announcement worthy of consideration. We hope the General Assembly will override his veto.

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May 14, 2018

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Illinois stuck in the muck

A Governing magazine poll shows Illinois ranks in the bottom half of states in growth of gross domestic product.

When it comes to Illinois' financial status, bad news isn't bad news anymore. It's increasingly just the way things are.

For example, Chief Executive magazine reported recently that a poll of corporate chief executives ranked Illinois No. 48 out of 50 as a state in which to do business. The Land of Lincoln has held that status for four consecutive years.

It's a relief that Illinois didn't fall to No. 49 or 50. Otherwise, there's not much in the study to write home about.

Not only is Illinois inhospitable to job creators, but state officials show little to no interest in improving things.

But there's a good reason why the Chief Executive magazine poll matters and why this state's elected officials ought to be more interested in improving this state's reputation as a place to do business.

It comes from another publication, Governing magazine.

It reported earlier this month — not long after the Chief Executive magazine poll came out — that Illinois ranks in the bottom half of the states in economic growth last year.

While Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Utah claimed the top five spots in growth of their gross domestic product, Illinois ranked No. 33.

Of our six neighboring states, Illinois' GDP growth trailed Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin and outpaced Kentucky, Missouri and Iowa.

GDP represents the total value of everything produced by all the people and companies in a state or country.

The U.S. has the largest GDP in the world, but the various states do not all contribute to it in equal amounts. Low or negative economic growth reflects a recession or near-recession economy that strains personal finances, investments and job growth.

So while it may seem to be an esoteric measure divined by experts, GDP affects everyone from the top to the bottom of the economy.

Illinois has tremendous advantages — a central location in the nation, an outstanding transportation network and an educated workforce. It ought to be thriving. Instead, it's flailing and failing.

Unfortunately, those who look to relocate or expand in Illinois have concluded that this state's weaknesses — high taxes and a costly regulatory and litigation environment, to give just two reasons — outweigh its strengths.

As a consequence, Illinois' GDP grew just 1.2 percent last year.

Nationally, GDP is approaching 3 percent, and even that is not good enough. But 1.2 percent?

Behind that disappointing number, of course, are disappointed people who'd like a job, a better job or an opportunity to boost themselves and their families.

The powers-that-be don't like to be reminded, but those who fit the above categories are increasingly looking outside Illinois for the opportunity to improve their lives. That's why Illinois is expected to lose one or perhaps two members of its delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives after the next Census.

Yet our legislators in Springfield do nothing.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, and House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat, can find no common ground on which to build a better, stronger and more prosperous Illinois.

Other states, whether run by Democrats, Republicans or both, have avoided the kind of political pitfalls that have dragged Illinois into the muck.

Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Utah are all showing GOP growth above 3 percent.

Among the bottom dwellers were Louisiana (minus-0.2 percent), Connecticut (minus-0.2 percent), Kansas (minus-0.1 percent), Mississippi (0.3 percent) and Oklahoma (0.5 percent).

Well, Illinois is not a bottom-dweller in GDP growth — at least not yet. But it can — and ought — to do better. Perhaps someday, when elected officials of both parties decide to get serious about doing their jobs, it will.

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May 10, 2018

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

Tackling the rising number of vehicle fatalities

Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn intends to organize a "safety summit" — preferably this fall — to try to find answers to the disturbing rise in fatal car crashes.

In 2017, 1,098 people died in Illinois wrecks, 20 more than in 2016. In 2015 the number of deaths was under 1,000.

The number of fatalities is "going in the wrong direction," Blankenhorn told attendees this week at the 2018 Illinois Bike Summit.

Most of those deaths were occupants and/or drivers of motor vehicles, but some were bicyclists and pedestrians.

Blankenhorn is right to be concerned about Illinois. And pulling together transportation experts, engineers, community leaders and health experts seems like a good way to begin.

But what is happening in Illinois is also reflected nationally.

According to National Safety Council estimates, more than 40,000 people died on the nation's roads in 2017, about the same number as the 40,327 who died in 2016 -- and 6 percent more than 2015.

In some years, the U.S. crash death rate has been more than twice the average of other high-income countries.

And Illinois? As of May 8, 325 people have died on Illinois roads in 2018, including 46 pedestrians and three bicyclists. We don't have the worst statistics among the 50 states, but we aren't the best, and with a death toll that high, it doesn't really matter where we fall on the bell curve.

Looking at the past, however, gives hope for the future. The Centers for Disease Control considers the U.S. reduction in motor vehicle deaths to be one of the great public health achievements of the last century.

Surely, what could be accomplished in the 20th century can be improved upon in the 21st, and for a while it was -- from 2000 to 2013 crash deaths dropped another 31 percent, primarily by enforcing drunken driving laws and seat belt usage.

Now, however, the numbers have turned deadlier again. The reasons why are myriad, with increased vehicle speeds and distracted driving being the two most often cited.

Blankenhorn said he intends to begin by following through on recommendations he got from a task force, which suggests working with the local governments where most of the fatalities are happening.

"We need new partners," he said. "We need fresh thinking."

The great tragedy of car crash deaths and injuries is that in almost every case, they could have been prevented. It will take finding the right combination of innovative engineering and an understanding of human nature to turn fatalities into something rare, instead of commonplace.